3 Trends In Customer Service From CRM Evolution

Written by on September 16, 2014

I’m excited to be heading down to Atlanta for Social Media Today’s The Social Shakeup this week where I’ll be moderating a panel on Overhauling the Customer Relationship in Automotive. Coming off last month’s CRM Evolution there are some trends emerging in how brands communicate with their customers and their ecosystem as a whole and I’m eager to see what some of the leading social and digital thinkers have to say. Each year some of the top influencers in CRM gather together in NYC for CRM Evolution and the co-located Customer Service Experience, expertly curated by analysts Paul Greenberg and Esteban Kolsky, respectively. For me, it’s a checkpoint in terms of the current state of CRM and customer service, and a glimpse into where it’s going.  The terms may change — social CRM, customer experience, customer engagement — but in the ends it’s about finding that common ground to find how to satisfy the needs of our customers.

Big Data, At Your Service

Privacy and personal data is a point of contention in our digital world as our lives are increasingly tracked and analyzed. My good friend (and Pardon My Disruption co-host) Jonathan Yarmis has often said on our show that he’s willing to trade some personal data for an improved customer experience. One trend that continues to grow is making better use of the customer data we have to improve customer service and, as an extension, overall customer experience. This could be anything from putting more information at the agent’s fingertips, to feeding the agent content to better service the customer.

As businesses, our perspective on engaging customers is maturing. In terms of leading practices we are well past the broadcast era of our relationship with customers. And this relationship has become more complex. We don’t survey customers as much as we listen to them. We don’t market at customers so much as we use data to find ever shrinking demographics. In his session on digital transformation, analyst Ray Wang of Constellation Research talked about the need for “mass personalization at scale” and asked a critical question: “can you support a customer segment of one?”

In terms of direct application to customer service, Bob Dunfee, VP ONE Evangelist at Thunderhead gave this example: imagine you’re an insurance company and you know your customer just logged in to your website and checked to see the cost of adding a driver to her policy. You also know her policy is up for renewal in 2 months. When she calls in the agent should not only have all this information but she should have suggested content to share/discuss as a result. “Did you know we have a special program for new drivers?” Not a bad assumption for someone looking to add someone new to the policy.

Channel Hopping

I don’t need to say the proliferation of communications channels — and how to manage them! — is a big topic in all aspects of business. Ovum analyst Keith Dawson pointed out what I thought was a pretty interesting challenge for customer service organizations that’s growing out of multi-channel communications.

The most popular customer service channel — phone — is an endangered species. By 2016, says Dawson, we will hit peak usage for phone as a channel for customer service. From there forward it’s predicted call volumes will drop, the beginning of the decline of voice as a channel for customer service. While rumors of the demise of phone as a channel are not new, the number of communications channels is putting all kinds of pressure on customer service departments.

An interesting side note to the rise of mobile phone calls to call centers is the challenge for organizations in terms of customer identity. Very often identity is defined by a unique, channel-based identifier such as phone number or email. How do you correlate for the overall view of the customer unless you insure context and continuity? Mobile numbers are often not known which can cause challenges for organizations using phone number as a key identifier.

As brands, we see channel hopping — moving among channels for the same context of communication — as a growing norm in communication. I know my conversations easily move between voice, SMS, chat (Twitter DM, Facebook Messenger, Google+) and email. Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of what I said, to whom, and where. The same is increasingly true for customer service. The customer doesn’t care that he has migrated to a different channel. As practitioners we care a lot because it can be difficult to manage.

Communities And Brand Advocates

This may be the most important trend I saw at CRM Evolution. One of the biggest challenges with engagement on digital and social media is scaling. This is particularly acute when it comes to customer service. Automations and customer self service through FAQ’s and knowledge bases play a role in mitigating some of the challenge, but direct customer engagement still presents challenges for most support organizations. The answer may lie in the development of strong communities of brand advocates.

Becky Carroll, Associate Partner of Cloud Strategy at IBM presented the strengths and challenges of building communities for your brand. It’s not easy, and the time to value can be long. “It can take 1-2 years to see significant call deflection from community.” says Carroll. Lauren Vargas, Head of Social Media and Community for Aetna had this advice for building a strong community: 

Her recommended reading? The Death and Life of Great American Cities

The rewards are tempting. A strong community can take some load off your customer service department and give you motivated brand advocates to help you connect to a larger audience. 

Two years ago the theme at CRM Evolution was “social” CRM, last year it was “customer experience” and this year it was more about customer engagement. Next year? My bet is communities and brand advocates.

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